Radical community arts centres in 1970s and 1980s Hackney: what legacy? – a recent discussion at Open School East introduced by Ken Worpole:
“We are now looking back over this vast period of 40 years from 2013 to 1973 and it seems to me like only 5 years ago. This idea that everybody could make art was so strong, and Hackney was such a vibrant area with such a strong radical political tradition, that it was no surprise that it became one of the national geographical areas where community arts really flourished. One of the questions that I hope will be addressed this evening is whether there are real continuities between now and the 1970s as we once hoped there were between the 1970s and the 1930s.”
This debate aimed to explore late 20th century experiments with arts and communities in East London, and the position of contemporary communal spaces within this lineage. The event brought together writers, researchers and organisers who were involved in setting up radical community arts centres in the 1970s and 1980s, or have been revisiting the histories of such places as Centerprise (Dalston, 1971-2012), Chats Palace (Homerton, since 1976) and Cultural Partnerships (De Beauvoir Town, 1983-1999) .
Fragile Archivists joined oral historian Rosa Vilbr and Cultural Partnerships co-founder Graham Downes to talk about the origins of the above-mentioned spaces, key moments and challenges in their history, as well as presenting oral and visual research gathered in recent months. The speakers were joined by Amit S. Rai who is involved with the recently initiated Common House in Bethnal Green, and Brian Walker, an early organiser of Chats Palace.
Here is an extract from what Fragile Archivists presented on the night:
The early Chats Palace programme evolved around two large scale community productions. The first one was the Hackney Marsh Fun Festival which took place in the summer on Daubeney Fields. The two day event, which started in 1974 was a prototype community festival and in many ways became a key reason why Chats Palace itself came into existence, through the need for a permanent base for the year-round festival programme. From extensive festival footage we showed a little montage from 1977.
In the early years of the organisation’s development Chats Palace worked closely with Freeform Arts Trust, who provided a programme of outreach workshops. We played another clip from 1977 and relates to the Queen’s silver jubilee of that year. It’s interesting to see how the newly formed Chats Palace were not afraid to work with the popular culture of the day and used the opportunity to make direct connections with the people on the estates. They set up jubilee support units who went around the local estates and offered practical support in things like site decoration.
Chats Palace and Freeform’s positive view of community art engagement wasn’t always embraced by everybody as this little clip of found footage demonstrates.